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TV subtitling update: BBC and Channel 5 make progress to resuming a normal service, but little improvement on Channel 4

We wanted to share with you a new update on the subtitling issues which have affected the BBC, Channel 4, and Channel 5 over the last few weeks.

Our original update about the subtitling problems includes details of how to complain to the broadcasters themselves or to their regulator, Ofcom.

Following the incident at Red Bee Media (an independent company responsible for making subtitles for lots of broadcasters), TV viewers experienced problems, including subtitles only appearing after a lag or not appearing at all.  

We are happy to let you know we have noticed that subtitles have improved on the BBC and Channel 5 and both broadcasters are offering a better service than last week. But they have confirmed to us in the past 24 hours that they haven’t yet resumed a completely routine service.

BBC 

The BBC have told us:

The BBC have told us: “Since September 30th, the vast majority of pre-recorded programmes on the BBC’s TV channels have had options to watch with subtitles.”

The BBC have also promised they will make the majority of shows that were broadcast without subtitles available with subtitles on BBC iPlayer.

Channel 5

Channel 5 have issued a further statement, and have apologised for the “inconsistent service” and say:

“Subtitled and audio-described programming on Channel 5 is almost back to normal. Nearly all Channel 5 programmes are now being broadcast with accessibility features, particularly during our peak evening schedule.”

They also say they are manually adding subtitles to as many shows as possible and to their My5 on-demand service, although this is, “a slower process than we would like so please bear with us while we work through that selection of programmes”. 

UKTV

Following feedback from our communities who were unable to access subtitles on UKTV channels, we contacted them to find out if this is also a result of the incident at Red Bee Media and what they are doing to fix the problem. They confirmed that UKTV’s linear channels were affected by the incident, but the problem has now been fixed, saying: 

“UKTV’s linear subtitle provision was minimally affected by the incident at Red Bee on 25th September, however, I’m pleased to say those issues have now been rectified and UKTV’s subtitle provision has remained above Ofcom’s quota throughout the affected period. We apologise to viewers for any issues they have experienced and we appreciate their understanding”.   

This is welcome news and a testament to the efforts of our supporters with hearing loss or who are deaf, whose constant pressure on companies helped to make this a priority.

Channel 4

Sadly, Channel 4 is still experiencing substantive problems with subtitling and said the following. Read the full Channel 4 statement.

“The reason we can’t currently provide access services is because of the severity of the incident on Saturday 25 September 2021. When we transferred to our emergency back-up, the system that was meant to provide access services, also failed. 

“Our engineers have been working around the clock to fix the problem. It is a priority for Channel 4. However, it is a complex process and will take some time. 

“However, when access services are fully restored, Channel 4 will make sure that all the programmes that you have missed will be available to watch with subtitles, audio description and sign language support.” 

Channel 4

This statement isn’t good enough.  

We have no reason to question Channel 4’s assertion that they are making every effort to fix the technical problems. However, we do not believe that they have communicated effectively with the deaf community. We will be writing to Channel 4 to ask them to make the following information available – and accessible – to the deaf community: 

  • How long do they expect this crisis to continue? Even a broad timeframe would be welcome.
  • Can they make sure programme information to viewers is accurate? At the moment programmes are still advertised as having subtitles and signing, even when they don’t. 
  • Can they provide easy to navigate information on when programmes are being made accessible on-demand, including clear information on the platforms and devices on which shows are accessible.  

We will share any response we have from Channel 4 as soon as we can.


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